The Grewal scandal revisited: Brampton East MP remains silent on his political future
Brampton politics was swept into a furor at the end of 2018 when a scandal broke around MP Raj Grewal.
Fresh off a municipal election in which a career politician who had suffered an ignominious fall from power at the start of the year rose from the ashes to become Brampton’s new mayor, the city was enthralled by a new drama as Grewal announced he was resigning his Brampton East seat for “personal and medical reasons.”
The story was devoured as the details gradually came out: Gambling. Huge debts. Mysterious income. Ethics and RCMP investigations. Questionable land deals. The story had it all.
A week after the scandal was launched into the public eye with a resignation via Facebook, the 33-year-old Grewal, first elected in 2015, was booted from the Liberal caucus. He remained silent for eight long days.
Then he emerged with a video statement explaining that he had paid back his gambling debts and was reconsidering his resignation, which he said he’d announced in a “highly emotional state.” Grewal said he would let the citizens of Brampton know in the new year what he had decided.
The Pointer attempted to reach Grewal at his parliamentary office, his constituency office and via email, to no avail. A spokesperson at his Brampton office explained that the request for a statement on his political future would be passed on to Grewal, but no response ever came.
While the public airing of Grewal’s gambling debts and the controversy involving his connections to a local developer who’d been invited to attend Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s much-maligned trip to India in early 2018 thrust the MP into national headlines, trouble had been simmering in the background for some time.
Here’s the story up to this point.
The gambling problem wasn’t Grewal’s first brush with controversy last year.
The year did not start off on the right foot for the Brampton MP, who invited the CEO of Brampton-based construction firm Zgemi Inc., Yusuf Yenilmez, along on a February trip to India with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and a delegation of MPs — a trip much criticized by the Opposition for appearing to be little more than photo-ops with Trudeau in traditional Indian garb, while raising serious security issues. It was later revealed that the RCMP knew that Jaspal Atwal, a man convicted of the attempted assassination of an Indian cabinet minister, attended several events with the PM but never informed Trudeau of that fact.
Yenilmez attended functions during the official visit, which featured meetings and events with influential politicians, business people and bureaucrats from Canada and India.
It was later learned that Grewal was on Zgemi’s payroll, receiving what was labelled as “employment income” in Grewal’s public disclosures to the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. The disclosures also revealed that Grewal was receiving payments from Brampton-based law firm Gahir and Associates.
In response to the controversy about Grewal’s connections to the construction firm and its CEO, NDP MP Charlie Angus wrote a letter to the ethics commissioner asserting that Grewal’s actions violated the Conflict of Interest Code, which applies to all MPs.
The complaint from Angus was reviewed by ethics commissioner Mario Dion, who decided the information was enough to formally launch a probe into Grewal’s actions.
The rules that govern whether MPs may accept outside employment depend on their position. Under the Conflict of Interest Code, most ordinary MPs (such as Grewal) may hold outside employment as long as they don’t use their parliamentary office to advance their own interests or those of someone else. (Members of Cabinet, in contrast, are strictly forbidden to take outside employment.)
“This general rule set out in the Members’ Code is complemented by rules that prohibit Members from using their public office to influence a decision and taking advantage of insider information, in order to further their private interests or those of a family member, or to improperly further another person’s or entity’s private interests,” states the ethics commissioner’s website. “For example, furthering a private interest would include cases where a Member’s actions result, directly or indirectly, in outcomes such as an increase in a person’s assets or obtaining a business position.”
By the fall, it appeared Grewal had weathered the storm. After appearing alongside his fellow Liberal MPs and Trudeau at a Brampton summer picnic, he was back to speaking on key items in the party agenda.
The Pointer reached Grewal following the Liberal announcement of increased immigration targets, which will allow up to 330,800 people to obtain permanent residency this year, rising to 341,000 in 2020 and 350,000 in 2021. Grewal spoke highly of the plan and said he was encouraged by the new targets, which will allow more skilled workers to enter the country and boost Canada’s labour market in an increasingly competitive environment.
He showed no sign that, only 19 days after that conversation, he would be stepping away from Parliament Hill. His words suggested a commitment to improving relationships with the City of Brampton to increase the flow of federal funding to deal with Brampton’s many growth-related challenges as the city continues to absorb a disproportionate number of the GTA’s newcomers.
“The issue is that the federal government has obviously invested in Brampton and invested in these settlement programs,” he said, blaming city council and its lack of proactive funding applications as the main issue. “At the end of the day, the buck actually stops with council.”
Nov. 22, 2018
Throughout his time as a rookie MP, Grewal has been a regular contributor to Brampton political conversations on social media.
On Nov. 22, it appeared he had put out his last post on Facebook as a Brampton MP, stating that because of “personal and medical reasons” he was stepping aside.
“This has been a decision I’ve struggled with for some time now and one I made with great difficulty and real sadness. But I feel I need this time to focus on my health and family,” he said in the post announcing his resignation. “I am grateful for your unwavering support over the past three years. Brampton East is and will always be a special part of my life. I will continue to work for this community and am hopeful I will have the opportunity to serve you again.”
Nov. 23, 2018
The Facebook post, not an official avenue for an MP to resign, was met with skepticism. The vague reasons he listed ignited speculation, but residents didn’t need to wait long for clarity.
A statement from the Prime Minister’s office said Grewal was resigning because of a gambling problem.
“Earlier this week, Mr. Grewal told us that he is receiving treatment from a health professional related to a gambling problem that led him to incur significant personal debts,” the statement to The Pointer said.
“Based on these circumstances, we agreed that his decision to resign as member of Parliament for Brampton East was the right one. We hope he receives the support he needs.”
Nov. 26, 2018
With Grewal’s status as an MP still in the air, questions were being asked about the fate of the ethics commissioner’s investigation involving Trudeau’s India trip.
“The inquiry into the conduct of MP Grewal will continue as soon as possible in spite of his resignation,” the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner tweeted.
The office did not clarify whether this meant the probe had been temporarily suspended.
The same day, The Pointer contacted the offices of Gahir and Associates, the law firm Grewal derived “employment income” from. A receptionist said Grewal worked directly with lawyer Harinder Gahir, but would not divulge what that work entailed.
According to its website, Gahir and Associates practises in areas including business, civil litigation, real estate and immigration law. The website biography for Gahir notes that he has been practising law in Canada since 2000 and he has “successfully represented his clients before the Immigration & Refugee Board and Federal Court. His areas of practice include Corporate & Commercial law, Commercial and Development Real Estate and complicated immigration cases.”
Nov. 27, 2018
Further revelations surfaced about Grewal’s gambling problems.
The Globe and Mail, quoting anonymous sources, reported that the RCMP had been investigating Grewal’s actions for months after having been tipped off by the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC), which requires casinos to report transactions of more than $10,000 made in a day.
The next day, a spokesperson for the RCMP told The Pointer, “The RCMP is not in a position to confirm or deny the existence of a criminal investigation at this time and we therefore cannot comment on the matter.”
Nov. 29, 2018
The Pointer visited the offices of Zgemi Inc. and was told Grewal offered legal consulting, but that CEO Yusuf Yenilmez was not in the office. There was no response to a request for comment.
Nov. 29, 2018
The Pointer published a story revealing that Grewal and Mississauga MP Navdeep Bains, currently the minister for innovation, science and economic development, were given confidential details about a local land deal by the former mayor’s chief of staff. The deal had ended up costing the city an extra $1 million over the price it had originally negotiated.
A third-party probe launched by the City of Brampton found that Linda Jeffrey’s chief of staff, Hasneet Singh Punia, leaked confidential details about the planned property purchase along Goreway Drive to Grewal and Bains.
The city needed a provincially owned 20-acre parcel to solve a traffic congestion issue on Goreway Drive, south of Steeles Avenue. Punia told Grewal and Bains about the agreed price of about $3.3 million. The city’s deal with the province never went through, but the land was snatched up by a private consortium called Goreway Heaven Inc. shortly afterward for close to the same amount and then resold to the city this past January, just months later, for $4.4 million.
Council was concerned enough about how that had happened to ask Froese Forensic to investigate the deal. Then, after hearing reports that Grewal was being investigated for transactions at Ottawa casinos, the city’s legal staff recommended in an emergency meeting that the findings of the investigation be sent to the RCMP.
The Goreway Bridge project has been a thorn in the side of Brampton and Mississauga residents for years. CN trains crossing at this point cause lengthy delays multiple times a day, leading to severe traffic backups at the crossing on Goreway Drive.
On May 30, city council approved closing Goreway Drive at the CN tracks as the first step toward building an overpass bridge to alleviate the problem. The entire project is estimated to cost $33 million. Subject to approval from both CN and the Region of Peel, a tender for construction is expected to be released this year.
Grewal had championed the project even before he was elected as MP in 2015.
When the project was eventually approved, he released an exultant video on social media, saying, “I am very pleased to announce that today [May 30] at City Council in the City of Brampton, the project to build the overpass bridge has finally been approved.”
Nov. 30, 2018
A day after The Pointer published its story, Grewal released a video statement offering an apology and an explanation for his actions in connection with his apparent resignation and the Goreway land scandal.
The video begins with an apology to all Canadians, his constituents, family, colleagues and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“I’ve asked for this opportunity to speak directly to my fellow Canadians about my mental health issues with gambling,” Grewal says, stating that over a three-year period as an MP, he accumulated personal debt in the “millions of dollars.”
He had gambled recreationally since university, according to his statement, but the habit developed into a mental health issue when he started to play high-stakes blackjack at a casino next to the hotel he stayed at as a parliamentarian.
He says he started to borrow money solely from friends and family to continue gambling, and that all the money has been paid off, largely with the help of his family.
He says he has decided to leave the Liberal caucus and take a leave of absence to focus on treatment, and that he will decide about his political future before Parliament resumes in 2019.
“During this time I ask the people of Brampton for their patience, guidance and prayers.”
Grewal also addresses his involvement in the Goreway Bridge plan, after The Pointer’s report on the investigation.
Grewal says he had requested updates on the project from the mayor’s office so he could keep his constituents informed and received an “unsolicited confidential report” from Punia, on Nov. 21, 2017. “I did nothing further with this report,” he states. Any suggestion that he leaked the confidential information to anyone is “categorically false.”
Dec. 2, 2018
The company that sold land to the city for the Goreway bypass released a statement saying it received no information from any politician or political party to help it acquire and sell the property.
The statement was released on the Facebook page of Jaswinder S. Bhatti, who is listed in corporate records as an officer and director of Goreway Heaven Inc.
“We categorically deny that the land was acquired based on information disclosed by any politician of any stripe or level of government including without limitation Minister Navdeep Bains or Raj Grewal,” the statement said. “It is also categorically false that we used any connections with the Liberal Party to acquire the parcel of land in question.”
Jan. 28, 2019
Parliament will resume on this date. Grewal promised in his video to make a decision on his political future ahead of that session.
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